September 27, 2020

BY CODY MUDGE

Where have all the girls gone? For an industry born out of a relatively progressive age and whose products have nearly universal appeal, gaming has a serious problem with attracting women to the burgeoning field.

Gaming has become an incredibly robust entertainment industry with economic clout rivalling and even surpassing the movie and music industries in many countries. And the field has been growing steadily, especially here in Canada, where employment in the industry rose by five per cent in 2012 over 2011, according to a study conducted by Nordicity, a consulting firm focused on economic analysis of media and creative technology sectors.

Canada boasts the third largest gaming industry by employment, behind only the traditional powerhouses of Japan and the United States. This growth has been fertilized by government subsidies and the continuing interest of youth in the field. The same Nordicity study found that as many as 97 per cent of new graduate hires came from within Canada. Why then do females represent only a meagre 16 per cent of people employed by game developers or publishers?

Michael Winter, computer programming professor and director of the upcoming GAME program at Brock University, suggests a systemic problem with our society and education which discourages girls from pursuing technical careers.

“In my computer programming classes I’m lucky to ever have a female student enrolled,” he said.

The disparity between the number of women who play games and the number employed in the industry is staggering. Most polls of serious computer and console gamers show anything from an even split between males and females to 60-40 male majority. If you switch that metric to social or mobile games the roles nearly reverse with women using their phones or social networks like Facebook to play more often than their male counterparts.

Gaming has already reached unprecedented levels of success and it has done so by enticing men. Adding the genius and creativity of the other half of the species can only benefit everyone as new ideas and techniques are pursued to push the industry even further.

At the very least the demand for graduates with a working knowledge of game design and programming, which sparked the creation of programs like GAME, means that employment opportunities exist for young people in a market predisposed against them. Winter said Brock and other universities specifically target girls with certain marketing events but if they don’t show up there’s little they can do. We need to let our young girls know that it’s OK to break into a male-dominated field because there is simply no reason for it to be male dominated.

How can we fix this problem? Academics like Winter suggest encouraging female students as early as primary school to pursue technical and scientific courses. Whether this will actually get done is another matter.

“I hope so,” Winter said.

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